Chicago officials say city should privatize airport security

Four Chicago aldermen are suggesting the city should privatize security at O'Hare and Midway airports after recent extremely long waits to get through security.

The aldermen said in a news release Wednesday that the Transportation Safety Administration has failed to retain sufficient personnel. They say the TSA's Screening Partnership Program allows airports to use qualified private contractors to screen passengers and baggage under federal oversight.

When George Greenidge flew out of Atlanta the other day, he says long lines prevented 30 passengers from making the flight. Not wanting to take a chance on his return trip, he arrived at Midway five hours early.

“Yes, (It’s ridiculous),” Greenridge said.

“People shouldn't have to come to the airport three and four hours early to make a flight. A month ago it wasn't like this,” added Jitu Brown.

Besieged by complaints about these long lines, the mayor and others at City Hall are talking about bringing in private contractors to help speed things up.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said the situation is unacceptable, but that the TSA is responsible for airport security and must handle the issue.

“The director will be here on Friday. And I intend on letting him know how we feel,” Mayor Emanuel said.

That would be Peter Neffenger, chief administrator of the TSA, the federal agency whose employees screen passengers and bags at most of America's airports. A few airports, though, use private contractors supervised by the TSA. San Francisco's the biggest, where screeners actually work for Covenant Aviation Security, a company headquartered in south suburban Bolingbrook. 

New York and Atlanta have notified TSA their airports may hire private contractors. Ed Burke and three other aldermen here introduced a resolution urging Chicago's Department of Aviation to privatize security screening at O'Hare and Midway immediately.

“There's 3,000 less TSA screeners now than there were in 2011! Does that make any sense?” Burke said.

The TSA's budget has shrunken by a quarter-billion dollars since 2011, even though it's screening 40 million more passengers. Congress is considering giving TSA more money.

The TSA said Tuesday it was sending 58 new security officers and four more bomb-sniffing dog teams to O'Hare.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has demanded the TSA administrator resign if delays at O'Hare and Midway aren't resolved by Memorial Day.